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House martin

As our winter birds depart for their summer breeding grounds, we start to see the UK’s summer arrivals.

Swallows and martins are some of our quintessential summer birds, but what’s the easiest way to tell them apart?

All are agile in the sky with forked tails, but there are a few key differences to look out for, especially in their distinct calls.



Swift: dark drown, screaming call, crescent shaped wings
  • Arrive from late April
  • Crescent-like wings, forked tails
  • Sooty brown, can appear black in the sky
  • Evocative screaming call

For more information about swifts in the Hampshire area of the Solent visit Hampshire Swifts.


Swallow: glossy blue upper, red throat, long tail streamers, trills and twitters
  • Arrive from late March
  • Long tail streamers, forked tails
  • Glossy blue upper, red throats
  • Mix of trills and twitters

House martins

House martins: white underside and patch on rump, blue black upper, high pitched trilling call
  • Arrive from March/April
  • Forked tails
  • Blue-black upper, white underneath, brown-black wings
  • High pitched and trilling call

Sand martins

Sand martin: white underside, brown chest bar, dark brown upper, rasping, chattering twitter
  • Arrive from March
  • Forked tails
  • Dark brown upper, white underside, brown bar across chests
  • Rasping, chattering twitter